posted October 6, 2005
A Tale of Two (American) Cities

copyright 2005 by Jack Rasmus

The images tell all about the growing class divisions in America today.

Within twenty-four hours of the 9-11 disaster in New York, George W. Bush was ‘on the ground’ offering unlimited support and financial aid from the U.S. government to his corporate friends in the World Trade Center and Wall St. environs.

Five days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans leaving hundreds of thousands without water, food, medical care and untold thousands of elderly and children dead from negligence—George W. Bush finally made it as far as the Mississippi coast, showing up on network television shaking hands, sharing hugs, and patting white folks on the back.

Later that same day, September 2, he finally appeared at the airport on the outskirts of New Orleans to give a speech, surrounded by local politicians. But no photos of George W. on the ground in downtown New Orleans that day. Not like New York. And no back-slapping with poor black folks at the Superdome or convention center. No way.

George Bush never made it into New Orleans. Just a quick flight from Mississippi to the New Orleans air
port, a brief tarmac speech and photo-op, and an even quicker flight out again. There’s hours of film of Bush at the site of the destroyed World Trade Center in New York the day after 9-11. But no TV footage at all of George in New Orleans on 9-2. The images indeed tell the story.

Television—the electronic world window—captured in a few moments of contrast the essential truth and meaning of George W. Bush and his administration: Two cities. Two worlds. Two classes. One white, rich and powerful; the other poor, disenfranchised, and overwhelmingly people of color. New York September 11, 2001; New Orleans September 2, 2005. A ‘Tale of Two Cities’—and two Americas today.

No doubt when the final tally of lost lives is taken thousands of Americans in New Orleans and vicinity will have needlessly died. Perhaps more than on 9-11. And not by the actions of some foreign terrorists, but by the inaction of Americans in seats of power, money and privilege.

For what happened in New Orleans is yet another clear case of criminal negligence at the highest levels of U.S. government on down: The cuts in budgets that might have prevented the levees from breaking—budgets that engineers have been begging for almost a decade now but were denied. The funds instead diverted toward multi-trillion dollar tax breaks the past four years for the richest 5% households and to pay for a war of lies in Iraq. The failure to provide helpless citizens without transportation a means to evacuate before Katrina came ashore. The casual disregard by those in power for the hundreds of thousands left for five days without food and water. Babies dying. Elderly succumbing before their time and in the most undignified ways. Thousands of loved ones who will remain beneath the rubble forever missing, or washed out to sea and unaccounted for. While thousands of Louisiana National Guardsmen, who might have immediately lent a critical hand to their neighbors and their own families, remained stationed half a globe away.

Did Bush and friends think that everyone in New Orleans owned SUVs and could scurry away on the interstate at the last moment? Did he really think no one was disabled, ill or confined to hospital beds in that city? Hundreds of thousands of Americans in the inner city of New Orleans—as in every major American city—rely solely on public transportation. Why wasn’t that system mobilized to get them out before the full force of the Hurricane arrived? And why was it shut down and denied them at the last moment when they were most in need?

Indeed, there have even been reports that some did try to leave on foot, but were prevented by police stationed at key points throughout the city as they attempted to do so. Four and five days later, denial of exit by government was still occurring. Were authorities concerned that if they were allowed to leave roving bands of thousands of black citizens might trample the lawns of suburban white homeowners as they marched up the interstate?

Fox news meanwhile ranted daily the past week about lawlessness and lack of order in New Orleans. But where are the facts? How many people have been confirmed shot, or even apprehended shooting, among the hundreds of thousands of starving, desperate and dying? Not rumors of shots fired. But the facts. And the looting? Who wouldn’t break into a grocery store or a pharmacy to get food, water or medicine for one’s family in such a situation? The real wonder is that so many actually remained so non-violent given the extreme situation and growing numbers of people dead and dying all around them. One wonders how many card-carrying, National Rifle Association rednecks would have put up with half as much before ‘locking and loading’ and taking the law into their own hands.

In the days and weeks to come the American public will be inundated by yet more lies about what happened in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Commissions will be formed—to cover up the truth in New Orleans to help minimize lawsuits and claims against insurance companies—just as happened following 9-11 in New York. In that at least the two disasters will share a common fate.

And in the aftermath of 9-11 corporations, in particular the oil and energy companies, will take advantage of the crisis to be given a freer hand to further gouge the public with price hikes, demand still more tax breaks, get government oil from the U.S. strategic oil reserve at below market prices, eliminate more regulatory and environmental protections, and generally pick our wallets while backs are turned for three more years. The whims of ‘nature’ will be blamed for it all, not those in corporate boardrooms exploiting the situation to the max, as the U.S. economy accelerates in its descent—already underway—toward yet another recession. George W. Bush, politicians, and media mouthpieces will blame that arch-terrorist, Nature, for the coming economic decline. And they will use it as a cover to continue pushing their agenda of a massive redistribution of incomes in America.

As during the period following 9-11, in the weeks and months ahead Corporate America will not be asked to sacrifice on iota of profits or revenues. But it will be allowed to pass the entire burden onto the backs of the rest of working America. But such is the ‘Tale of Two Cities’—and two classes—in America today.

As the author, Charles Dickens put it in his famous novel by a similar title, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’—a story about events leading up to the 1789 French Revolution–"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.? Alas, we in America in September 2005 are not yet able to lay claim to either.

Jack Rasmus

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